Please note: this story was provided by the author and published as is.
When I was growing up, whenever we started hearing sounds from the basement, and the house got cold, and the lights went out, my whole family would go hide in our bedrooms until Uncle Iggy was gone. At first, Jess and I hid with our parents in their room. We’d stay up late playing Monopoly and watching Jumanji and The Pagemaster on VHS. By the time Jess was twelve and I was ten, we were old enough to stay in our own rooms when Uncle Iggy came up from the basement. I took a lot of pride in mom and dad trusting us like that but Jess…it wasn’t enough for my sister.
She wanted to see Iggy.
I remember the night Jess convinced me to break my promise to mom and dad. It was in the winter, December or January, I think. Dad was stuck at the office because of a snowstorm. Mom went to bed after dinner; one of her migraines, her bad days. We hadn’t gotten a visit from Uncle Iggy for at least six months, so maybe mom and dad were a little relaxed. Or maybe they just really trusted us. Either way, when we started hearing the familiar banging and thumps from the basement, Jess looked at me and winked. We were sitting on the couch eating ice cream and working on a puzzle.
“Wait to see if mom calls,” Jess whispered, eyes on the kitchen.
That’s where the door was that led to the basement. It was a slim door, old wood, with a padlock on the outside. I knew the lock wasn’t for Uncle Iggy. Nothing ever stopped him when he wanted to get out. The lock was so that Jess and I didn’t go downstairs.
“She must be sleeping,” I whispered back after a minute.
The noises were getting louder from the basement. Every few seconds there was a silence followed by a crash. Somebody was dragging something heavy down there.
“We should go to our rooms,” I said. “We shouldn’t be out here. We promised.”
“I just want to see him, Alice,” Jess replied. “C’mon, I just want to see.”
There wasn’t much point arguing with Jess when she got in one of her moods. She was tall and pretty and blonde and perfect and the fastest girl in her class. I liked reading books inside when it rained and I didn’t have a lot of friends. But I had Jess.
“Alice, c’mon,” she said. “There’s something wrong about this whole situation. Nobody else at school has a locked basement. Nobody else has to hide when ‘family’ visits.”
Even at ten, I knew the situation with Uncle Iggy was weird. He would start making noise in the basement a couple of times per year and mom and dad would go pale and then we’d all go lock our bedroom doors and wait. I knew our parents weren’t telling us, well, there was a lot they weren’t telling us. But I didn’t want to see Uncle Iggy. I remember leaning forward on the couch that night and silently praying that our mom would call. If she called for us, even Jess wouldn’t resist. Our mom was tiny but she had this voice, this presence, that you listened to. When she didn’t yell and the basement sounds got even louder, I started staring at the front door. Dad was late that night ‘cause of the storm, but he promised to be back before bed.
If he walked inside at that moment, still wearing his suit and dusted with snow, I could imagine how his eyes would open wide when he heard Uncle Iggy. He’d rush forward and he’d scoop me up, and he’d grab Jess’ hand. Then we’d run upstairs and into my parents’ room. He’d be mad and mom would be mad when she woke up but they’d hold us and we’d be safe.
None of that happened. Instead, I heard somebody coming up the basement stairs. Somebody heavy.
“We can hide behind the loveseat,” Jess whispered, her voice high. “C’mon, go, go, go.”
I went. We got behind the chair just as the basement door started to rattle. Jess pulled me close and wrapped her arms around me. There was a loud pop that must have been the padlock opening. I noticed the cold, then. It always got chilly when Uncle Iggy came out but I’d never felt it like that night. My breath was a quick cloud and my teeth chattered so bad I bit my lip. The smell came next. It was like eggs after they’d spoiled, or a whole dumpster full of expired food.
I gagged. Jess put her hand over my mouth. I could feel her shivering behind me, her grip tight.
“Igcky igcky igcky.”
The sound came from the kitchen, a greasy croak. It got colder quickly, and the smell kept trying to press into my nose. The electricity flickered twice, then went out. The only light came in through the windows, spillover from the streetlamps outside. The gray-white glow filled the living room with shadows. One shadow was different than the rest, more fluid, sharper. It was bigger than my dad and stumbled now and then as it came out of the kitchen. Jess sucked in a breath behind me while I squeezed her hand so hard I was worried her knuckles would pop.
“Igcky igcky igcky igcky.”
It was like the shadow was trying to clear its throat. I watched it walk around the living room, bumping into furniture and moving strangely like…like it was dancing, almost. Jess was breathing fast; quick, short, quiet breaths that made it hard for me to tell if she was scared or excited. Me, though, I was more afraid than I’d ever been in my life watching that shadow stagger around our house.
Then dad finally got home, his headlights filling up the room, and I found out that I had no idea how scared I could get. In the new light, the shadow was no longer a shadow. It was an old thing, man-shaped and wrinkled. Flaps of skin hung off a thin body, a red body, the flesh as raw as the worst sunburn that ever was. The shriveled thing turned towards the windows when the headlights broke in and I saw its face and that’s when I screamed. I didn’t want to scream but I couldn’t help it. The sound just came out.
There was no face, no real face, only a smear with two holes where the eyes should be.
Jess tried to cover my mouth but it was useless. It’s not like she could grab the scream and force it back down my throat, down into my lungs. It was out. Uncle Iggy saw us, his unface snapping to the place we were hiding.
“Run,” Jess whispered. “Run for your room.”
I couldn’t move. Uncle Iggy started coming towards us, that croak still coming from his throat. There was a flash of movement and then I saw Jess dart out towards the kitchen. Dad’s headlights pushed her shadow up on the wall and made it huge. She was moving slowly, running but stopping every few feet to look back at the thing in our house. When it started after her, that’s when she finally ran like I knew she could, sprinting for the kitchen.
She was leading Uncle Iggy away. I could see the stairs in the light from dad’s car. I could make a break for my bedroom or I could go out the front door to dad. Either way, I knew I’d be safe.
Why couldn’t I move?
Jess screamed. That was enough to snap me into motion. She’d gone into the kitchen with Uncle Iggy limping after her. I ran through the living room and tripped on the tile as I crossed over. The basement door was open and a light was on. Jess screamed again, a ragged sound like she couldn’t get enough air. I scrambled as fast as I could towards the open basement door. It was dark in the kitchen but there was a green-yellow glow coming from down the stairs.
“Jess,” I shouted from the doorway.
She and Uncle Iggy were both down there. Iggy was half backed into the boiler, his torso sticking out like a charred lump of meat falling from a grill. He had his arms wrapped around Jess, pulling her along with him. I made eye contact with my sister the moment before she disappeared inside of the boiler. I’ll never forget how she looked. How scared. How young. Her eyes were almost all white; her mouth was open but I couldn’t hear the scream.
Created by Danny Ingrassia
The boiler door slammed shut. A second later, the basement door swung closed right in my face. I pounded at the wood, clawed at it, turned the knob as hard as I could. The door remained sealed.
“Oh God, please no,” I heard my father say.
He brushed me out of the way, gentle but firm. Then he put his shoulder into the basement door. Over and over and over but the wood wouldn’t break. The lock was secure. At some point, while my dad was trying to break down the door, the lights came back on. I remember looking out of the kitchen to see my mom standing at the bottom of the stairs, her hand over her mouth, silent. Dad kept hitting the door. He called out for my sister, he kicked the lock; just as he was running to grab something–an axe or a bat or a hammer–the basement door opened on its own.
Jess was sitting alone at the bottom of the stairs, head down. She didn’t move when I
yelled her name or when dad went running down for her. He scooped her up and carried her into the kitchen and sat her at the table. Mom came in and sat with her, then stood to go get her a glass of orange juice.
“Jess?” I asked.
Dad was down in the basement moving around. Jess wasn’t looking at any of us, just staring down at the table.
“You okay, baby?” mom asked.
Jess started to cry. I heard my dad banging around downstairs. The sound of something hitting metal echoed up to us. My mom moved next to Jess and held her but my sister didn’t react. The question came out of my mouth almost on its own.
“What did you see?”
Jess and my mom both looked at me. Mom looked angry. Jess looked…Jess just looked.
“Uncle Iggy showed me where he lives,” she answered. “And he showed me where-,”
Jess sobbed. “He showed me where we go when we die.”
Jess wasn’t really Jess after that night. First, she was sad, then she was angry, then she cut her hair, then she stopped talking to any of us. My sister used to be a top student, an athlete, surrounded by friends; that all went away over the next few years. Mom and dad got different, too. We moved but Uncle Iggy still found a way to visit so when the knocking started in the basement, Jess and I would go into our parents’ room.
When I got older, I had some hard conversations with mom and dad. I didn’t much recognize Jess at that point. All she did during those years was fight and cry and hurt herself. I asked my parents why…why didn’t they do more? And they told me they did all they could think to do. Uncle Iggy was with my dad’s side of the family ever since his parents were kids. When mom and dad got together and Uncle Iggy started showing up, they moved. They moved houses again and again but Iggy always found them. So, eventually, they made a deal. Uncle Iggy could visit as much as he wanted and could have free run of the house, except for the bedrooms. If he agreed, they would stop moving, and he could stop chasing them.
For a little while, it worked.
After the night Jess was dragged into the boiler, my old family was gone. There were all of these–these, fractures. Not just with Jess but with all of us. We grew up and grew apart. Dad died from a stroke at fifty. Mom stopped taking care of herself and passed away last year. Jess, Jesus…Jess spent the next twenty years causing everybody pain but herself most of all. The light went out of her. I tried to help her as much as I could but I had a job that asked a lot and a family of my own.
I wasn’t there for her as much as I should have been. I’m not sure if that would have mattered but it’s true either way. Six days ago, my big sister overdosed on enough fentanyl to fill a cemetery. We buried her this morning. Jay was there with me–my husband–and our twins. There weren’t too many others. Jess was a lonely soul.
I’m writing this now to help me remember, to help me get it all straight. After what happened with Jess when we were kids, I’ve never been comfortable in a house with a basement. Jay and I got a rancher out in the country: a single-story with a lot of yard but no cellar. So why do I hear familiar sounds? Knocking. Thudding. It’s coming from the attic and it’s getting cold in the house.
The twins are in their room and Jay is with them. I made him promise no one would come out until I said it was okay. God, I can smell it.
I’m sorry, Jess. I hope wherever you are, it’s nowhere Iggy showed you.